My review of The Exceptions by David Cristofano

About the book: 

No loose ends. It’s the Bovaro family motto. As part of the Bovaro clan, one of the most powerful and respected families in organized crime, Jonathan knows what he must do: take out Melody Grace McCartney, the woman whose testimony can lock up his father and disgrace his entire family. The only problem: he can’t bring himself to do it.

Had Jonathan kept his silence, Melody and her parents would never have been identified and lured into the Witness Protection Program, able to run but never to hide. So he keeps her safe the only way he knows how-by vowing to clean up his own mess while acting as her shield.

But as he watches her take on another new identity in yet another new town, becoming a beautiful but broken woman, Jonathan can’t get her out of his mind . . . or his heart. From the streets of Little Italy to a refuge that promises a fresh start, Jonathan will be forced to choose between the life he’s always known, the destiny his family has carved out for him, and a future unlike anything he’s ever imagined.

My review:

I absolutely loved this story. The author’s storytelling is beyond superb. I really enjoyed The Girl She Used to Be by the same author. In fact, it made my favorite fiction list the year it came out. The cool thing was enough time had passed between my reading each of the stories that it felt like I began the story again from a totally different perspective. But this time it went way back to the beginning. In some ways I loved this book even more than the first. The ideal is to read both, but this could be read as a stand alone novel.

This was an exceptionally good book because my emotions were fully engaged. I was also enthralled by the concept – the son of a notable crime family guarding the life of one of his family’s targets. As far as romantic elements go, this author really cranks up the heat while staying fairly chaste. It’s a technique worth studying in depth. I could feel the love oozing off the pages and it was enough to melt my heart.

The hero tells this story entirely from his perspective. You feel his intense longing and his inspiring discovery of what it means to truly love someone. At the same time, the hero wants to do right by the heroine. He couldn’t free her if she clung to him, so he refrained though everything in him wanted to love her fully. There is nothing more romantic than restrained passion and sacrifice.

There were moments when a sense of betrayal which got me a bit choked up. I felt the wounds myself as it were happening to me. But like all good love stories, the truth eventually comes out and it isn’t what it seems. This is my cryptic way of telling how much I enjoyed the twists and turns without sharing them in this review. I stayed up late many nights reading this book. I highly recommend it.

The Exceptions was published by Grand Central and released in August 2012


My review of Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering

About the book:

Drew Farthering loves a good mystery, although he generally expects to find it in the pages of a novel, not on the grounds of his country estate. When a weekend party at Farthering Place is ruined by murder and the police seem flummoxed, Drew decides to look into the crime himself. With the help of his best friend, Nick Dennison, an avid mystery reader, and Madeline Parker, a beautiful and whip-smart American debutante staying as a guest, the three try to solve the mystery as a lark, using the methods from their favorite novels.

Soon, financial irregularities at Drew’s stepfather’s company come to light and it’s clear that all who remain at Farthering Place could be in danger. Trying hard to remain one step ahead of the killer–and trying harder to impress Madeline–Drew must decide how far to take this game.

My review:

I’m not a fan of murder mysteries or black and white movies, but I did enjoy this novel. People who reminisce about living in that era or watching Agatha Christie flicks will love this book. It had plenty of intrigue and a distinctly English feel to the story right down to the lingo used at that time. I almost felt like I was watching a Sherlock Holmes episode, only this had a more unique twist to it. There were a number of red herrings to throw you off the trail of the true killer as well. I’m not sure if I liked being wrong, but the author made a case for the truth.In the process of exposing the mystery around the plot of the person intent on murdering anyone who crossed them, the author managed to weave in some spiritual sustenance for the reader as well. I think I enjoyed the romantic parts of the story best, though, especially when the hero resisted the urge to cross the boundaries of propriety. The heroine loved him more for it. Don’t we all love heroes like that?. So Drew was pretty heroic despite his overwhelming desire to solve the crime, which of course went against the wishes of the police department who asked him to stay out of their detective work. If you enjoy a old fashioned murder mystery with “whodunit” details that are complex and compelling, you’ll enjoy this book.

Rules of Murder was published by Bethany House and released in August 2013.

My review of Replacing Gentry by Julie N. Ford

About the book:

When Marlie agrees to attend a cadaver ball at Vanderbilt Medical School, she did not expect to actually see any cadavers. Or, that a strange apparition would issue her a chilling message.

Despite the cadaver’s warning, Marlie is married a year later to Tennessee State Senator, Daniel Cannon, and living in a plantation-style mansion with two step-sons. Add to the mix her growing suspicion that something is amiss with the death of Daniel’s first wife, Gentry, and newlywed Marlie is definitely in over her pretty Yankee head.

What begins as an innocent inquiry into her new husband’s clouded past ends with Marlie in the midst of a dangerous conspiracy.

A modern twist on the classic Gothic romance novels of Rebecca and Jane Eyre, Replacing Gentry follows Marlie’s precarious journey as she learns the truth about the man she married.

My review:

So far I’ve read two of Julie’s books and I’ve enjoyed them both. This Gothic-style romance was completely different from her first book. I haven’t ready anything quite like this book. The writing style was very good and the plot moved along at a brisk pace. The complexity and detail shown reflects the author’s creativity. The setting with its Southern culture, graveyards, and creepy secret cult also gave the story an intelligent feel.

The creepy scenes and odd characters added to the story’s appeal and the mysterious twists and turns in the plot held my attention. I loved the emotion, the tension, the intrigue, and the sizzling romantic elements. I also appreciated how there were several instances where I had no clue about what was going to happen next, and then the author tossed in a curve ball I never saw coming. There was nothing predictable or cliche about this book. And the ending was sweet with just the right amount of resolution to satisfy me as a reader.

Replacing Gentry was published by WiDo and released in April 2013.

My review of As Sweet as Honey by Indira Ganesan

About the book:

In her latest novel, Indira Ganesan, a writer often likened to Arundhati Roy and Chitra Divakaruni (see back of jacket for reviews), gives us an enchanting story of family life that is a dance of love and grief and rebirth set on a gorgeous island in the Indian Ocean.

The island is filled with exotic flora and fauna and perfumed air. A large family compound is presided over by a benign, stalwart grandmother. There is a very tall South Asian heroine with the astonishing un-Indian name of Meterling, who has found love at last in the shape of a short, round, elegant Englishman who wears white suits. There are also numerous aunts, uncles, and young cousins—among them, Mina, grown now, and telling this story of a marriage ceremony that ends with a widowed bride who, in the midst of her grief, discovers she is pregnant.

While enjoying their own games and growing pains, Mina and her young cousins follow every nuance of gossip, trying to puzzle out what is going on with their favorite aunt, particularly when the groom’s cousin arrives from England and begins to woo her. As Meterling—torn between Eastern and Western ideas of love and family, duty and loyalty—struggles to make a new life, we become as entranced with this family, its adventures and complications, as Mina is.

And with her we celebrate a time and place where, although sometimes difficult, life was for the most part as sweet as honey.

My review:

I found this book compulsively readable. It was sent to me to review for my honest opinion, so here goes… It reminded me of someone talking to the reader who has ADHD. Just when you think you are tracking with the story line, it goes off on another tangent. At the same time there were so many cultural elements, foods, and interpersonal issues in the book, I couldn’t help being interested. Some of the cultural stuff I got a bit lost with (like the legends related to Indian culture) but overall, I found it hard to put down.

The writing was interesting, and at times beautiful. The point of view was a bit convoluted because it seemed like most of story was being told by Mina, but at the same time it was impossible for her to be some of the places with Meterling. So she was sort of an omniscient POV, but not completely. I’ve never read a book quite like it. Once in awhile the author slipped in Simon’s point of view, too. So while it was a tad odd to follow, I got used to it soon enough. The ghost thing was exceptionally weird, but again, still interesting.

Clearly this story was fiction, but I enjoyed reading it for the most part. I was never bored. Not once. Confused, maybe. But not bored. So for that, I give it four stars, but overall it was more of a three and a half star book. Three was nothing remotely Judeo-Christian about this book, but it was not offensive to me. I feel like I learned something about people from the Island of Pi in the Indian Ocean who did not like being referred to as people from India, but at the same time they were part of that culture. Kind of like people from Hawaii being American, but Polynesian at the same time. I enjoy learning about cultures I know very little about.

As Sweet as Honey was published by Knopf and released in February 2013.

My review of Anomaly by Krista McGee

About the book:

Thalli has fifteen minutes and twenty-three seconds left to live. The toxic gas that will complete her annihilation is invading her bloodstream. But she is not afraid.

Thalli is different than others in The State. She feels things. She asks questions. And in the State, this is not tolerated. The Ten scientists who survived the nuclear war that destroyed the world above believe that emotion was at the core of what went wrong—and they have genetically removed it from the citizens they have since created. Thalli has kept her malformation secret from those who have monitored her for most of her life, but when she receives an ancient piece of music to record as her community’s assigned musician, she can no longer keep her emotions secreted away.

Seen as a threat to the harmony of her Pod, Thalli is taken to the Scientists for immediate annihilation. But before that can happen, Berk—her former Pod mate who is being groomed as a Scientist—steps in and persuades the Scientists to keep Thalli alive as a test subject.

The more time she spends in the Scientist’s Pod, the clearer it becomes that things are not as simple as she was programmed to believe. She hears stories of a Designer—stories that fill her mind with more questions: Who can she trust? What is this emotion called love? And what if she isn’t just an anomaly, but part of a greater design?

My review:

I don’t typically read books in this genre, though it’s kind of funny that I’ve read two in the past month. I really enjoyed this story for a number of reasons. I think it’s cool how the author used a dystopian and futuristic world to show the importance of what God created and how altering the divine order in our lives makes us a bunch of clones of each other.

We all need a purpose for our lives and given the right conditions, we will all, at some point, long for something better. We all make choices that make us who we are. Without emotion and love, we have nothing. Since God is love, it all ties together. I found the way the author tied that all together quite fascinating. I would consider this a high concept novel, though the concept if firmly based in a Christian worldview.

I appreciated the deep point of view used by the author to show deception and how putting our hope in something that isn’t real is kind of like falling in love with our sin. In the end it leaves us feeling emptier…worse than before. I saw Dr. Loudin as not just an antagonist, but also a “satan” figure in that his goal is not only to get the character to believe the deception, but he was willing to not only mess with her mind and her emotions, but destroy her soul to accomplish that. Very profound stuff.

And the way the biblical truths were presented to the characters was emotionally moving. The way they were willing to sacrifice their lives for each other was also very touching. The insight and sense of a higher purpose because of the teaching they received from John touched my heart. The ending left me anticipating the next book. I can’t wait to see what this author cooks up for book two.

Anomaly was published by Thomas Nelson and releases in two days! This is one worth pre-ordering now!

My review of The Outcast by Jolina Petersheim

About the book:

Raised in an Old Order Mennonite community, Rachel Stoltzfus is a strong-willed single woman, content living apart from mainstream society until whispers stir the moment her belly swells with new life. Refusing to repent and name the partner in her sin, Rachel feels the wrath of the religious sect as she is shunned by those she loves most. She is eventually coerced into leaving by her brother-in-law, the bishop.

But secrets run deep in this cloistered community, and the bishop is hiding some of his own, threatening his conscience and his very soul. When the life of Rachel’s baby is at stake, however, choices must be made that will bring the darkness to light, forever changing the lives of those who call Copper Creek home.

My review:

Wow! Not since reading Cantrell’s “Into the Free,” have I been so emotionally moved by a story. There were so many things that this author did well. Her writing style is emotionally evocative, and her words are expressed with such beauty that I became fully immersed in the book. Her use of characters to bring out different truths was sheer perfection. I especially loved how she used Amos’s point of view from the “great cloud of witnesses” as a way of showing omniscience, but in a much more compelling fashion that is typically seen in fiction. It added more complexity and depth to the plot and revealed things the reader might otherwise not have known.

The way the author slowly trickled in the facts that led up to the night Rachel’s world imploded from one bad decision was extremely well done. It drew my attention like a mystery plot and kept me wondering, until a surge of emotion hit me when secret was brought to light and the truth finally came out. The serious illness was a perfect conduit to provoke the needed revelation. The suffering Rachel felt while her son suffered was deep and profoundly written.

I loved Judah so much for so many reasons. His undying devotion going back to their childhood made him so heroic in my eyes. The pain he felt and the forgiveness he extended — after releasing the anger that seemed very natural given the unsavory revelation — made me want to weep for him. Even Tobias made my heart ache because of the true repentance he experienced. What a difference it can make when we own our actions and stop blaming others for our own sins, eh?

To sum things up, this was a fantastic book. In fact, of all the books that I’ve read this year, I think this one makes the top of my list. I read this entire book in a day. The premise intrigued me, but I’ve read many story plots that sounded great, but were weak in their execution. This was a powerful story on many levels. It is not a cookie cutter Amish/Mennonite plot, but unique and enthralling… for me as a reader. I normally won’t read fiction about strict religious orders be they Amish or Mennonite, but this book surpassed my expectations. What a fantastic debut!

The Outcast was published by Tyndale and released in July 2013.

My review of The Well by Stephanie Landsem

About the book:

Could he be the One we’ve been waiting for?

For the women of the Samaritan village of Sychar, the well is a place of blessing—the place where they gather to draw their water and share their lives—but not for Mara. Shunned for the many sins of her mother, Nava, Mara struggles against the constant threats of starvation or exile.

Mara and Nava’s lives are forever changed with the arrival of two men: Shem, a mysterious young man from Caesarea, and Jesus, a Jewish teacher. Nava is transformed by Jesus, but his teachings come too late and she is stoned by the unforgiving villagers. Desperate to save her dying mother, Mara and Shem embark on a journey to seek Jesus’ help—a journey that brings unexpected love and unimaginable heartbreak.

My review:

I enjoyed this Biblical fiction novel. It had a different twist to it than other versions I’ve read. In this book the main character was the daughter of the woman who went to the well in Samaria — the one who said Jesus told her everything she’d ever done — not the woman herself. There were a lot of tense moments in the story… but at times Mara got on my nerves. She was such a worrier, and very stubborn.

The way the author had several different stories going at the same time was cool, and the way they were merged together when Shem met Mara worked well. The scene with Nava at the synagogue was pretty intense. At that time I grew to admire Mara’s faith and her pursuit of Jesus. The people in their town were cruel and judgmental, but I suppose that self-righteous attitude is pretty prevalent with a lot of religious people.

I liked Shem a lot. The tension between him and Mara was well done. Poor Mara had no clue that he would be fond of her as a woman. Even though in theory I should not have liked how things turned out in the end, I was satisfied with the resolution. The twist with Shem was pretty cool. I’m sure that’s all fiction, but I still liked it.

I would recommend this novel to people who enjoy Biblical fiction and don’t mind a lot of improvising with the facts. There are a lot of stories that don’t have the details needed to make a complete novel. As long as it goes with the culture of the times, I enjoy seeing how different authors use the setting to bring out different points.

The Well was published by Howard Books and released June 4th.

My review of The Princess Problem by Diane Darcy

About the book:

In real life, she’s given up on the fairy tale ending…

After having her heart broken twice, Alicia Dayne has sworn off men, decided to concentrate on her career, and is delighted to win a lucrative contract to make a commercial for Highborn Mattresses.

She could make the most awesome fairytale commercial ever, except for Jonas Highborn, who isn’t exactly thrilled with her Princess and the Pea ideas, and really doesn’t want a prince in tights representing his company.

Though he’s trying to keep his grieving mother happy by letting her have charge of the commercial shoot, and though Alicia’s trying to keep in mind that this annoying guy is her boss for the moment, they can’t seem to keep from clashing.

Throw in an overly-handsome prince, a matchmaking mama, and a stunning rose garden, and maybe, just maybe, Alicia can be convinced they have a chance at something real.

Because while she might not be a real princess, sometimes an ordinary girl’s got to take a chance, even when it seems too good to be true.

When did Happily Ever After become so complicated?

My review:

This was a really cute novella. The writing was better than most and the point of view was clearly defined. I loved the characters’ inner thoughts and how they started out with sparks flying–not the good kind–which then it turned into more, but in a believable and natural way. Their fears of emotional intimacy were well grounded– especially on Alicia’s end. I loved how their communication was handled, with honesty being the ultimate bond that drew them closer. The point system on their date and the reward of a kiss at the end was cute, too. This is a nice, sweet love story with just enough sizzle to make me smile, but without going overboard. I found everything to be likable in this story.

My review of Captives by Jill Williamson

About the book:

One choice could destroy them all.

When eighteen-year-old Levi returned from Denver City with his latest scavenged finds, he never imagined he’d find his village of Glenrock decimated, loved ones killed, and many—including his fiancée, Jem—taken captive. Now alone, Levi is determined to rescue what remains of his people, even if it means entering the Safe Lands, a walled city that seems anything but safe.

Omar knows he betrayed his brother by sending him away, but helping the enforcers was necessary. Living off the land and clinging to an outdated religion holds his village back. The Safe Lands has protected people since the plague decimated the world generations ago … and its rulers have promised power and wealth beyond Omar’s dreams.

Meanwhile, their brother Mason has been granted a position inside the Safe Lands, and may be able to use his captivity to save not only the people of his village, but also possibly find a cure for the virus that threatens everyone within the Safe Lands’ walls. Will Mason uncover the truth hidden behind the Safe Lands’ façade before it’s too late?

My review:

This was an intriguing read, and at times, a bit scary in regards to relevance. The author renamed some things giving the story a definite futuristic feel to it. She also had some advanced ideas that made sense. But human nature is the same and hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. I loved how the author showed that. I also appreciated how she showed the emptiness that comes with chronic self-indulgence. And how betrayal begets more betrayal.

The truly frightening thing about this story was the way they dealt with pregnancy, childbirth and families. How traumatic for women! I can see where that could happen if a society got desperate enough to do whatever it took to preserve their people. I liked the point that Mason made. It may look good, but it’s still a gilded cage. And compliance that is not a choice is NOT freedom.

The way the story ended was satisfying to me. There is clearly a sequel in the works, but I won’t be distressed while waiting for it to release. At the same time, I MUST read it to find out what happens next.

There were a lot of “edgy” types of situations which I appreciated for the realism, but they were tastefully done so they wouldn’t be offensive to younger readers. At the same time, anyone who has lived in the world long enough would “get” what the author was alluding to, including teenagers. All they’d have to do is turn on the television to catch most of it. Anyway, enjoyable story.

Captives was published by Zondervan and released in February 2013.

My review of I Kidnap GIrls

About the book:

“I kidnap girls from their traffickers. Their pimps never know it until the girls are in the car with me, speeding toward the safe house.” Iana Matei did not always do such things. In fact, Matei, a once battered, imprisoned woman, had spent 10 years carefully constructing a better life halfway around the world. This life was interrupted by a single phone call that would eventually lead to the rescue of over 400 victims of forced prostitution. Iana Matei has achieved notoriety in the international community for her fight against human trafficking in eastern Europe – including the Reader’s Digest European of the Year award in 2010. However, her solutions are local: teaching rescued children vocational skills and developing projects with sustainable jobs. Thus depriving traffickers of one of their most valuable tools: the false promise of work abroad. Author Pamela Ravan-Pyne shares a fictionalized biographical account of Iana Matei’s initiation into the world of human trafficking. The three girls profiled in I Kidnap Girls – Tara, Louisa and Nicoletta – are composites of real-life experiences from the rescued victims. A portion of the sale of each book helps to fund the work of Iana Matei’s non-profit, Reaching Out Romania.

My review:

This book was pretty intense, and at times quite convicting. Most people are curious about how things like sex slavery can happen in our world today, but most people don’t want to get in harm’s way to help change the situations for these girls. Believe it or not, I actually know a few women who are living in other countries (like Thailand) and helping rescue girls forced into prostitution. It has to be incredibly hard to see the pain they have gone through. And then to find out many times their families sold them to these traffickers… ugh.

The writing style was okay. At times I got lost in the book because I felt connected to the characters and drawn into the story. At other times, I got a bit stuck because of some stilted inner dialog and lost my connection. But overall, the story was quite compelling. I wouldn’t recommend reading this book at night, though, or the reader might have some frightening dreams. I can’t imagine being 12 or 13 and being raped 27 times the first night. It’s unfathomable how evil some humans can be to innocent children. Then again, I’ve worked with abused and neglected children as a social worker for over 20 years, so there isn’t much I haven’t seen. This book just happens to show the worst of the worst.

People are understandably uncomfortable with prostitution. Men in the offending countries often think these girls actually want to be prostituting themselves. Maybe that’s how people deal with the knowledge that this type of crime is happening around the world. Surely it has to be desired behavior, right? Calling them whores just dehumanizes them. So when these poor girls seek help, they may be victimized again, or worse, sold back to the pimps who will beat them or possibly even kill them.

Human trafficking is probably the sickest problem in this world today. I found it interesting that there were some faith threads in this book, and at the same time it was littered with some harsh and degrading terms. I suppose that did lend to the book’s authenticity, but it still made me wince a few times. Anyway, I am glad I took the time to read this book. It has definitely opened my eyes even more to the plight of many children around the world.

I Kidnap Girls was published by BookTrope Editions and released in February 2013.